Contemporary Discoveries

Contemporary Discoveries

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 50. Racing Car 51.

Salvatore Scarpitta

Racing Car 51

Lot Closed

March 16, 04:50 PM GMT


60,000 - 80,000 USD

Lot Details


Salvatore Scarpitta

1919 - 2007

Racing Car 51

painted wood, screws and metal parts

81 by 95 in.

206 by 241 cm.

Executed in 1967-68.

Private Collection, Milan

Galleria Spazio Mazzotta, Milan

Private Collection

Sotheby's London, 17 October 2014, lot 48

Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

C. Lorenzi, Autoritratto, Milan 1969, p. 38, illustrated; Milan 2010, p. 28, illustrated

Luigi Sansone, Salvatore Scarpitta: Catalogue Raisonné, Milan 2005, p. 75, installation of the work in artist’s studio, p. 194, no. 351, illustrated, and p. 368, illustrated in color

B.H. Friedman, “The Ivory Garage”, Art News, Vol. 68, No. 2, April 1969, p. 53, illustrated

Childhood memories of auto races would prove to be a font of ideas for acclaimed artist Salvatore Scarpitta’s mature work in the 1960s and 1970s. Sculptural constructions like Racing Car 51, created between 1967 and 1968, demonstrate Scarpitta’s renewed interest in cars and speed during this fecund period in the United States. Painted in rich red and orange hues and skillfully crafted from a multiplicity of materials, Racing Car 51, the second of only three works that exist in this particular format, is a rare example from one of Scarpitta’s most significant series. 

Before Salvatore Scarpitta became a preeminent figure in post-war American art, he developed an early passion for cars in Los Angeles in the 1930s, later explaining, “I admired the racing drivers and the races at the time. The first time I painted it was the numbers that driver friends let me put on their shiny multi-coloured vehicles. I started to paint their portraits…” (quoted in Luigi Sansone Ed., Salvatore Scarpitta: Catalogue Raisonné, Milan 2005, p. 55). Two decades later, Scarpitta would rise to prominence in Italy after two breakthrough solo exhibitions at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan and at the Galleria La Taratuga in Rome in 1957. In 1958, Scarpitta met the storied gallerist Leo Castelli, prompting him to join his gallery and have his first solo show there in New York in 1959. Following his return to America in the 1960s, he began incorporating materials from the world of racing into his art. “I started using certain things tied to the canvases, like seatbelts, buckles for harnesses…or straps from racing cars, exhaust pipes, and I grafted these things onto my canvas, as if to take myself back to a world that was more reassuring.…” (Ibid., p. 72). In 1964, Scarpitta created a series of full-scale facsimile racing cars, beginning with Rajo Jack, an identical replica of a racing car he had seen as a boy in California. With each car, Scarpitta strived to replicate every detail of the original, in some instances even the working mechanisms. Twenty years later, Scarpitta would realize his dream of fabricating a working racing car named Sal Scarpitta Special, which he later raced in Maryland and Pennsylvania, sponsored by Leo Castelli.